Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Some Moscow Officials Want to Hand South Ossetia Back to Georgia, Former Tskhinvali Official Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, October 5 – Some Moscow officials believe that Russia lost more than it gained from its recognition of the independence of South Ossetia and, especially given the urging of Western officials now, would like to see it returned to Georgian control, according to a former South Ossetian official speaking on conditions of anonymity to the Caucasus Times news portal.
The anonymous former official provides no direct evidence for his claim and may be making it simply to put the Russian opponents of South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity on the defensive or alternatively to win back a job in Kokoity’s administration, but his comments are not implausible and deserve close attention for at least two reasons. .
On the one hand, Moscow clearly has more problems with South Ossetia than it does with Abkhazia as a semi-recognized state, and a Moscow-backed return of one breakaway republic could win Moscow points with the international community and even gain broader recognition for Abkhazia.
And on the other, given Russia’s current problems with Ukraine, such a move could play set the stage not for the recognition of another breakaway republic but rather for the absorption of Transdniestria or even Crimea, steps that at least some in both of those places as well as in Moscow would appear to welcome but that others see as a danger form of overreaching.
Yesterday, the Prague-based Caucasus Times portal carried an interview conducted by independent journalist Aleksandr Rukavishnikov with a former South Ossetian official who, as the site put it, “for understandable reasons” asked that his name not be used. In the interview, he was referred to as “Alan” (www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=20120).
According to this former official, the situation in South Ossetia is “developing not in the best way for the security and future of [that] republic.” Instead, there is “a very sharp attack on the existing leadership” which its authors want to use to push South Ossetia back to the situation where it was in 2001 as part of the Republic of Georgia.
That the Georgians and the West are pushing this idea is not surprising, he continues, but just as a decade ago, those who want to see South Ossetia part of Georgia “occupy a serious position in North [Ossetia] and what is most interesting in Moscow” as well, despite the actions of the Russian government a year ago.
Such Russians, he says, believe they have allies in this effort inside of South Ossetia and thus they are doing what they can to undermine President Eduard Kokoity, actions that Tbilisi has paralleled not only by the use of force – including plans for Kokoity’s assassination – and outright bribery.
But the former South Ossetian official continues, “the Americans have recommended to the Georgians to act not through some local resources and groups inside South Ossetia but rather through Russia and their people in Moscow.” And consequently, from the north, has “begun a new campaign of destabilization” intended to lead to “the seizure of power in the republic.”
This course of action reflects a change of tactics by Russia’s “enemies in the West,” this former official says. “If [such people] in the past had acted directly through Georgia … now, they prefer to act through Moscow. And in correspondence with this, certain forces in Moscow which did not want the independence of South Ossetia, are now in play.”
No one should be surprised about this, he continues, because “there were and up to now there remain in various structures” of the Russian capital “forces which are opposed to the independence of South Ossetia.” And they see gains for themselves by putting in place a regime in South Ossetia prepared for “dialogue” with Tbilisi, something Kokoity will never agree to.
Asked if all this was being “coordinated” by the American special services, the former South Ossetia official replied that “to a significant degree” that was the case.” But “besides the US, Ukraine is actively taking part in this game,” and “contacts of the Georgian special services with these [Russian] officials are going through Ukraine and Ukraine’s special services.”
From the perspective of all these groups, “Alan” says, “Eduard Kokoity is the main obstacle on the path to the realization of Western policy of pushing Russia out of the Caucasus. And that means he must be removed. If that can’t be done by force, then it is necessary to do so by means of political intrigues through Moscow.”
The reference to a role for Ukraine in this “game” calls attention to Russia’s involvement with the breakaway and unrecognized region of Transdniestria in Moldova and the interests of some Russian officials to seizing Crimea, which was part of the Russian Federation until Nikita Khrushchev transferred it to Ukraine in 1954.
Last week, Igor Smirnov, the Transdniestria president, repeated that his republic is prepared to become a region within the Russian Federation, noting that its willingness to do so had been heightened by the pro-Western and pro-Romanian policies of the incoming Moldovan government (www.sobkorr.ru/news/4AC5A1BB35D82.html).
In reporting on this, Kasparov.ru observer Yury Gladysh suggests that “like the Ossetians and Abkhazians,” the people of Transdniestria have become “over the last 20 years, “a new historical community of people,” to use “Soviet terminology. But as he points out they are not the only ones of whom that could be said, and the question arises where will all this stop?
Because of its moves in Abkhazia and South Ossetia and because of its adoption of laws permitting the use of Russian force abroad, Moscow is in a position where many there believe that they can follow up on their “successes” of last year. But Transdniestria is a very different case, without a border with Russia and with even fewer obvious attractions than Abkhazia.
Absorbing it might make some people feel good and would certainly give Russia yet another lever of influence against Moldova and perhaps more important Ukraine, but does Moscow need all the problems this would cause? Gladysh doesn’t think so. And that makes “Alan’s” remarks about Moscow concerning South Ossetia more plausible.

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